After the tobacco plant is harvested for its leaves and before it is ready for consumption, tobacco must first be thoroughly dried. Tobacco farmers refer to the drying process of tobacco leaves as “curing.” Tobacco leaves must be cured because the green tobacco leaf is too wet to ignite and be smoked in its raw or freshly picked state. Curing tobacco is also known as color curing, as it involves a process that intentionally changes the color of the tobacco leaves and reduces the chlorophyll content to create a mild flavor and scent. There are three basic methods for curing tobacco leaves:

  • Air curing
  • Fire curing
  • Flue curing

Air-cured tobacco is hung in curing barns that are well ventilated, with the leaves allowed to dry over a period of four to eight weeks. Air-cured tobacco is low in sugar, which gives the tobacco a light to ultra-light, sweet flavor. Cigar and burley tobaccos are forms of air cured tobacco.

The fire curing process for tobacco involves hanging tobacco plants in large barns where hardwood fires are kept on a continuous or intermittent low smolder. The process takes between three days and ten weeks, depending on the process and the tobacco. Fire curing produces a tobacco low in sugar and mellow in flavor. Pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and snuff are fire cured.

Flue-cured tobacco was originally strung onto long sticks hung from tier-poles in curing barns, which were traditionally called oasts. These barns were equipped with flues which ran from externally fed fire boxes. This allowed the tobacco to be heat-cured without exposing it to smoke, slowly raising the temperature over the course of the curing process. Conversion from this traditional curing method to gas fueled systems became common in the United States beginning in the 1960s. This curing process is faster than air curing, taking only about a week and producing tobacco that is high in sugar with a mild flavor. It is difficult to use a set curing schedule because each barn of tobacco has its own characteristics. Learn about how flue-cured tobacco is made in our blog or view our flue-cured tobacco for sale!

After tobacco is cured, it is moved from the curing barn into a storage area for processing. If whole plants were cut, the leaves are removed from the tobacco stalks in a process called stripping. For both cut and pulled tobacco, the leaves are then sorted into different grades.

The last step in the curing process is aging the tobacco. Curing and subsequent aging allow for the slow oxidation and degradation of carotenoids in the tobacco leaf. This produces various compounds in the tobacco leaves that give cured tobacco its sweet hay, tea, rose oil, or fruity aromatic flavor that contributes to the “smoothness” of the consumed product. Non-aged or low-quality tobacco is often artificially flavored with these otherwise naturally occurring compounds. [Wikipedia]

During aging, tannins are released while sugar levels increase to deliver a mellow, distinctly aromatic taste. Properly stored, tobacco can be aged for years. For information about purchasing the finest whole leaf tobacco, contact us via email at leaves@totalleafsupply.com, or give us a call today at (434) 247-1504.